By Michael Kinney
Fort Lauderdale, FL. – One day before they will lead their teams into the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley and Alabama coach Nick Saban had one last press conference Friday morning.
Riley admits to being superstitious.
“I’m a little superstitious. The bowl schedule makes that a little bit tougher on a day like today. But yeah, I’ve got my little superstitions,” Riley said. “I think it’s just more you kind of get into your mode during the week and you kind of — especially in this job now for me, what’s different, still running the offense, is trying to be as efficient as I can be with my time. And so trying to create a pattern to which I know where I’m going to be, what I’m going to be working on at certain points of the day and really that continues all throughout the week. So my superstition is more related to being efficient and making sure I’m doing the best job I can and covering all the bases that I need to cover.”
Can Kyler Murray do it all?
Riley was asked about the future of quarterback Kyler Murray. As the months as gone on, Riley has become more and more publicly confident in that his signal caller can find a place in the NFL.
“Regarding Kyler’s NFL prospects, everybody knows he’s got a big decision to make, which he’ll — he, his family, anybody else that he wants involved will sit down and visit once the season comes to an end. He’s in a great situation,” Riley said. “I mean, the guy is already the ninth overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, and I think he’ll probably be somewhere around the same spot if he chooses to go football-wise. I realize those — there’s a lot that goes into that, what teams are selecting, what their needs are, but we just had a guy go first overall the year before, and I think this guy is that kind of impact player, and certainly a rare athlete, one of those that you very well may go through the rest of your career coaching and never have one like that again. I mean, he’s that unique.”
But which will sport will he choose?
“He’s either going to be a Major League Baseball star or he’s going to be a Pro Bowler, he just needs to decide which one,” Riley said. “Maybe both.”
Saban didn’t give away any secrets or game plans on what his Tide have in store to slow down Murray. But he did heap high praise on him.
“I think the guy is one of the most dynamic players that I have ever seen in college football in terms of his skill set. He can beat you with his feet. He’s got great speed. He’s very athletic. He’s a good passer,” Saban said. “They have an outstanding scheme that really challenges you defensively and takes advantage of his skill set in every way, which is pretty obvious by the production that they’ve had all season long in terms of their ability to score points, make explosive plays, his ability to make explosive plays, and to distribute the ball in a way that all the other players on his team have an opportunity to make explosive plays. And they have great balance, so it’s not just one-dimensional. They run the ball effectively. They make explosive plays in the passing game, and I think it all starts with the system that they have, his ability to execute that system pretty flawlessly for the most part, and it takes advantage of his skill set to a tee.”
Does time off help or hurt?
It’s been more than three weeks since the last time Oklahoma and Alabama have played a game. Riley was asked if that much time off favors a great offense or great defense more.
“I don’t really know what the answer is. I think at the end of the day, you’ve got your processes again that you go through to game plan like you do every week of the year,” Riley said. “This is probably to me more similar to the first game of the year or maybe even after a bye week, just because you do have a little bit of extra time. It’s not like you’ve got the entire month, with the early signing day where it is now and that signing day really has become the true National Signing Day, and we both were in conference championship games. So we lost a week of recruiting. You’ve really got two weeks that’s one of the most critical times of recruiting, getting out to see these prospects, their families before that first signing date.
“A lot of our time was spent there, but yeah, you get — you’ve kind of got two weeks to roll on it, and hopefully you’re able to get some guys healthy,” Riley continued. “Hopefully you’re able to get a good feel for what your opponent does and again, what is your formula for winning and what do you need to do better than maybe you did in the previous game, and taking those next steps to continue to be the team that you feel like you can be.”
Riley said the foundation of consistency of Alabama’s defense begins on the recruiting trails.
“They’ve done a great job recruiting and developing players,” Riley said. “They’ve got really outstanding players at every single position. This year, in particular, the defensive tackle, 92, is as good as I’ve ever coached against. So he’s certainly in a group of great players, really stands out. And they play well together, like most great defenses. If you’re going to score some points or get any yards, you’re going to have to earn every single bit of it. They’re not going to give you anything, and they make a lot of big plays themselves. They’re certainly as good as we’ve gone up against.”
Game plan changes
Riley was asked does facing a great defense effect how he coaches all three phases of the game.
“I think each team has their formula for winning, and not every team’s formula is the same. So certainly we look at the opponent, break them down into different phases and what we need to do to be successful on offense, defense or special teams, but then that’s where my job comes into play, where you have to look at all three of those together and how could — maybe how good Alabama is on offense affect what you do in other phases of the game or vice versa,” Riley said. “So it’s like a puzzle. You’ve got to put it together. You’ve got to find a formula to find a way to win against a very good football team. So it certainly has an effect, and it’s certainly part of our preparation.”
A new trend
With the playoff committee seemingly overlooking the troubles of the Sooner’s defense, Riley was asked if he is now carrying the flag for teams with great offenses but bad defenses.
“No. Not really. We’re just here trying to win. Just like we’ve tried to win all the other ones. Again, it sounds like a broken record, what’s your formula for winning,” Riley said. “We’ve found ways to win games. We want to continue to get better on all three sides of the ball going into this game and into the future years of our program. There’s no doubt about that. But we found ways to win, and we’re going to try to do it again.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider